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Honor and Race

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Okay, we’ve heard that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This statement is a truism, and I suspect that it is generally true. Or else it wouldn’t be a truism.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about power. Perhaps because I live in a world where the balance of power is always shifting. Some countries have a lot of oil. They have power over my pocketbook. But they are counter-balanced by other cultures that have the power to wage war.

My power issues also are closer to home to home. In our city, the Latin American immigrants are so family-oriented and clannish that they live together and save enough money to buy up many of the houses around here. The old-time townies feel as though their town is being taken over, and my black neighbors wail that if the white man hadn’t destroyed the black family structure, we blacks would have learned to take care of each other in the same way the Latino immigrants are doing.

The blacks, in turn, have the power to harm their Latino neighbors by reporting illegal apartments to the city housing department. Of course, few blacks do that. But we whine and complain that we really should…considering that some of these new neighbors make no bones about hiding their racism against us.

Power is an odd thing, indeed. And the way and reasons we choose to use it is even more odd.

We are all powerful in our own way. We may not think so. Those who are poor often think they have little or no power. Poor whites often think this way. As do poor blacks. Around here, both poor blacks and poor whites say, “When the government gives amnesty to these illegals I hope they make a law that they pay them illegals the same pay they pay everyone else.” They reason that these companies won’t go around hiring only Hispanics who don’t know better. I hope the government forces the Equal Opportunity Agency to crack down on places that hire only Hispanics.

And we aren’t talking about the “jobs that Americans don’t want.” We’re talking regular jobs. What’s that about? Does the government only investigate white companies that hire only whites? Doesn’t it investigate companies that hire only Hispanics? Heck, maybe when the illegals become legal, people will stop being killed in traffic accidents. These amigos can’t drive.

The Hispanics, from what I can see, believe in the power of democracy and the power of protests. I’m not sure they understand American law but-from what I’ve seen and heard among my Hispanic church brothers-they truly believe that if they protest long and hard enough their human rights will be acknowledged. And when they say human rights, they believe in the “American system.” My friends are nothing if not believers in the American dream.

So yeah, people are peeved here because they think they have no power. But if we carefully ponder our situation we find that we do have some kind of power. There are things we can do to influence the lives of those we love, those we hate, and those we don’t know.

The average person does have the power to help someone.

Likewise, the average person also has the power to harm.

The average person rarely uses this particular power systematically. Unless, of course, one happens to be a psychopath, or angry, or prejudiced, or so overwhelmed by life that one truly doesn’t care whom one hurts.

Fear is often defined by a person’s power to harm another.

So far, there have been almost no actual race riots in my town. But there’s all this grumbling. I remember about 20 years ago when the blacks and the new Hispanic arrivals in Sleepy Hollow got into a riot. What a mess that was! The black folks lost that one. When you go to Sleepy Hollow now, you don’t see many black folks. The Hispanic poor have replaced the Black poor. Lord knows where the Black poor have gone.

What gets me about this is that the folks on the bottom are the ones fighting among themselves. The middle-class white liberals who are pro-amnesty don’t see what the effect of this flood of immigrants is doing. They are in their happy jobs. The rich aren’t affected by this racial stress either because more poor people vying for poor-paying jobs only helps their payroll. The racists who are against immigration don’t understand the situation either. To them it’s all about losing the American identity….which they define as Northern-European white.

As a money-challenged, educated Black woman who attends a Hispanic church, all I can think is this: In spite of all the stress and hurt, our new neighbors have caused many of us, we have not used the little power we have to report them. We have not reported illegal buildings, dangerous driving, the prostitution house up the road, child abuse, wife-beating. We live in a poor working class city, we know other Black folks who have committed these crimes. We don’t want our new neighbors to suffer from the system in the same way our own people have. Even if many of these new Hispanic neighbors-because of their own ethnic prejudices or because of the American media- consider themselves superior to us.

Fear often makes people hurt and judge other people, even if instinctly we know that those unlike us are very much like us. My neighbor recently had to deal with an Ecuadorean neighbor who peed through the fence into his yard…for no reason my neighbor could think of. Cops were trolling the block some time later and my neighbor said nothing to the cop. I applaud this woman. Indeed, I applaud the integrity of my people.

I understand that the power to keep one’s integrity is a fairly small power. And yet, it is power nevertheless. Integrity is sometimes the only power we Christian Black folks have.

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  • Constance

    Thought provoking article.